Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 45: Tanks for the Memories + Appleoosa’s Most Wanted

Introduction

< Part 44 | Part 45 | Part 46 >

Season 5, Episodes 5-6


Season 5 Episode 5: Tanks for the Memories

In five words: Rainbow Dash sequentially experiences grief.

Premise: When she learns that her pet turtle Tank will hibernate through the winter, Rainbow Dash tries to stop the season from happening so she won’t have to say goodbye. This matches heavily with the five stages of grief.

Detailed run-through:

Season 5 has tons of fun callbacks to early seasons, showing how far the show has come.

The start of this episode provides a snappy little recap of how the seasons work in Equestria, something we learned in two close-by season 1 episodes. Rainbow Dash notices that Cloudsdale is coming to Ponyville, meaning that winter is soon to start, and she’s super excited about this because it’ll be her first winter with Tank by her side. Season 5 has several episodes that take place a year (or maybe two) after episodes in the early seasons, and this one occurs a year after Fall Weather Friends. Or maybe if you’re willing to shuffle around the order of episodes in seasons 1 and 2 (like Winter Wrap Up and Hearth’s Warming Eve), you could argue it’s two years after? Whatever, mulling over numbers isn’t the point of these reviews.

Rainbow Dash has this all mapped out in her head. It hurts so much to see nature shoot these plans down.

After cheering on the ponies through the Running of the Leaves, Rainbow Dash excitedly talks about how winter is coming and is confused when Tank yawns. But she doesn’t think much of it, and goes on about all the things she’s looking forward to doing with Tank, shown in several fantasy scenes. To Rainbow Dash, the thought that her pet turtle might not be as excited for winter as her is completely unthinkable. This episode shows us how Rainbow Dash’s mind blocks out anything she doesn’t want to be true, which combined with her affectionate side leads to a uniquely heartwrenching story.

Twilight Sparkle checks on Rainbow Dash and remarks that Tank is moving very slow and looks tired, but then brushes it off as how the turtle always is. But Rainbow Dash knows her pet better than this, and once Twilight goes back to what she was doing, she makes this face:

Now that someone else has pointed it out, she realizes that Tank really is significantly slower and more tired than usual. Often it’s not until you hear someone else affirm something you’re suspecting that the realization hits you like a brick. It’s a good uneasy shot to close on before the theme song.

Rainbow Dash: Well?
Fluttershy:
I suppose his heartbeat could be a teensy meensy eensy bit slower than usual.
Rainbow Dash: OK, so give him a vitamin or something!
(Tank falls asleep)
Fluttershy: I don’t think he needs that.

Fluttershy knows the workings of animals better than just about anyone else in Ponyville, and she takes care of her animals never through feeding them pills, but through gentle care and letting them remain comfortable. The only time Fluttershy tried using a medication on an animal that I can think of is when she desperately tried to take care of Philomena, who frustratingly avoided the pill she was supposed to take. And since then, she’s learned how to better take care of animals. Rainbow Dash guesses Tank might be tired because she read him too many Daring Do books, and here’s her reaction to Fluttershy telling the truth:

Rainbow Dash: Well, what’s wrong with him then?!
Fluttershy: Nothing! He’s perfectly fine.
Rainbow Dash: (sigh of relief)
Fluttershy: He’s just going to hibernate.

Rainbow Dash only briefly makes this face before saying the line below.

Rainbow Dash: You do realize he’s not a bear, right?
Fluttershy: (laughs)

Look at the face Rainbow Dash makes when she’s hit with the wham line about her turtle hibernating. She momentarily looks like she’s learned a shocking truth about turtles, but then her brain unconsciously reconfigures itself so she can claim that since bears are the only animal she knew of that hibernates, hibernation must be something exclusive to bears. This right here is the first stage of grief: denial. It’s when your brain blocks out an uncomfortable realization and strains itself trying to come up with alternatives to the truth. Look at what Rainbow Dash has to say when Fluttershy gets out a book:

“Tortoise” is a much more annoying word to type than “turtle”, which is why I’m making the proper name of Tank’s species exclusive to transcripts.

Fluttershy: And see, even tortoises do it! When the time comes, Tank will leave and dig into the ground.
(Tank yawns)
Fluttershy: But don’t worry. He’ll reappear when the spring sun warms the ground back up.
Rainbow Dash: Come on, tortoises don’t hibernate. Somepony put that picture in there as a joke.
Fluttershy: It’s not a joke.
Rainbow Dash: Well, then your book is wrong.

This depiction of denial is so real, it’s almost painful. Painful in a good way, I mean. If Rainbow Dash learns something that she doesn’t want to be true, then she will do exactly what real people tend to do when faced with an uncomfortable truth. She’s willing to disregard anything she previously knew about life and her friends, like Fluttershy being an animal expert, all so she doesn’t have to face the truth about her pet.

Look at Rainbow Dash’s face. She so badly wants to be right.

Rainbow Dash then decides that a more reputable source on the biology of turtles would be Spike, ostensibly because he’s a “real reptile expert”. But we all know the real reason is because she already knows Spike doesn’t sleep through the winter. This scene just screams confirmation bias, which is another real thing that happens when people are in denial about something. Rainbow Dash is trying to filter out her sources so that she absorbs any information in favor of her viewpoint and deflects any against it. Confirmation bias is a natural human instinct, and it’s an important but difficult skill to learn to get past it. I know I’ve succumbed plenty to confirmation bias in the past, and maybe still some today. Anyway, Spike and Rainbow Dash’s conversation is a very good scene that’s worth analyzing.

Spike: I told you, Rainbow Dash, I’m a dragon.
Rainbow Dash: Come on, you’re practically twins!
Spike: … I’m purple?
Rainbow Dash: But if you don’t have to hibernate, why should Tank?
Spike: Because he’s a tortoise, and I’m a dragon!
Rainbow Dash: Same family though, right?
Spike: No!
Rainbow Dash: I’ll take that as a yes.

Rainbow Dash isn’t even listening to what Spike has to say, brushing aside all his plain and blunt statements. She even takes his no as a yes, if it couldn’t be more obvious that she’s denying the truth. She’s twisting her brain like crazy here, and once she can’t twist it any further, she will snap and the anger stage is imminent.

Spike: If Fluttershy says tortoises hibernate, then I guarantee tortoises hiber—
Rainbow Dash: Whoa, what would you know? You’re a dragon. (shuts the door)

Just like that, Rainbow Dash is back to thinking Spike wouldn’t be a reliable source on turtles. While she’s in this denial, her viewpoints on reality constantly shift to shield her brain from accepting that her turtle is going to sleep through winter. After failing to get affirmation of her desired reality from Fluttershy and Spike, Rainbow Dash is now back to thinking she’s the only one who truly knows Tank.

After storming out of Twilight’s place, Rainbow Dash sees Tank starting to dig a hole in the ground, and that’s where she can’t deny that her turtle is going to hibernate any longer. As such, she’s ready for the second stage of grief: anger. She lashes out at Pinkie Pie when she talks about how cute it is that Tank is about to hibernate, because that’s presently the only way Rainbow Dash can express her emotions. She even refuses to let anyone say the word “hibernate”, which leads Pinkie Pie to shoosh anyone who tries to say the word. Pinkie Pie is literal-minded as ever, taking other ponies’ promises seriously even when they don’t make much sense.

Twilight Sparkle: We know how upset you are about Tank. But you shouldn’t take your anger out on your friends.
Rainbow Dash: Who said anything about anger?! I didn’t say anything about anger! I’m not upset! And I am NOT ANGRY! DO I LOOK ANGRY?
Rainbow Dash: Come on, Tank. Let’s get out of here!

Twilight Sparkle tries telling Rainbow Dash not to let anger out on her friends, but when you’re this struck with grief, it’s much easier said than done. Once Rainbow Dash has processed the truth about hibernation, she has to let out all the anger she can before she can consider how to prevent this situation. That’s simply how grief works; getting out your feelings is the only way to move past them and reach the next stage.

At her home, Rainbow Dash talks to Tank about how she wishes she could do all the activities in the snow with him that she had planned. Tank nods in response, which is all that’s needed for Rainbow Dash to reach stage three of grief: bargaining. Once you’ve let all your anger out, your mind is clear for a little while longer and you start to think your situation could be mitigated, if not prevented entirely. Rainbow Dash knows that her turtle would love to spend time with her in the winter, which leads her to have an idea: if she stops winter from happening, then Tank won’t have to hibernate. And here’s the face she makes:

Often, I find it unbearable when Rainbow Dash decides to do something short-sighted and devious in an episode focused on her. And stopping an entire season from happening is something extreme even for her, but in this episode’s case, her motives are easy to understand. It’s all out of love for her turtle and inability to let go of what all she hoped to do with him.

What were these pegasi’s parents thinking when they named them?

Rainbow Dash’s schemes start out on a lighthearted note, with her moving clouds away in the background as several pegasi confuse phrases related to weather like “open skies” and “fluffy clouds” with each other’s names. She stuffs the clouds into a tree, and it leads to the first musical number sung entirely by Rainbow Dash: I’ll Fly.

I’ll Fly is one of my favorite musical numbers of the show. It’s done in an energetic rock style that suits Rainbow Dash perfectly, with an uplifting and hopeful mood that shows how determined she is to stop her pet from hibernating. This song does an immaculate job at making the viewer immersed in Rainbow Dash’s mindset; its tone is likely to make the viewer root for her as she busts away clouds and misleads birds and buries skis all for the sake of her beloved Tank.

Note that the circles’ shapes resemble infinity. Is this meant to be symbolic? I don’t know, but it sure looks cool.

In this song, Rainbow Dash doesn’t just use her abilities as a pegasus to stop winter. She also cleverly uses her leadership skills to trick ponies into making a circular loop of snow. This image symbolizes the problem with Rainbow Dash’s goal: her brain is going in circles trying to delay the inevitable rather than accept that Tank has to hibernate. The seasons are a well-maintained cycle in Equestria, and when Rainbow Dash is trying to clog the gears of the cycle, she’s herself creating some cycles.

To contrast this song from what a villain song might be like, Rainbow Dash sings some passages like this one:

Rainbow Dash: ♪ I know it’s wrong, but what does it matter ♪
Rainbow Dash: ♫ ‘Cause nothing’s gonna stop me now ♫
Rainbow Dash: ♪ I’ll change it all, it’s only the weather ♪
Rainbow Dash: ♫ And nopony’s gonna bring me down ♫

The tricky thing about making a good Rainbow Dash episode is that when she does something devious, her inner motives should be sympathetic or else the episode falls flat. In this case, her motives are because she can’t stand the thought of a winter without Tank, which makes for a very real depiction of grief. Read It and Weep is another good example: her motive for sneaking into the hospital was because she didn’t want her friends to know about her interest in books, which is extremely easy for bronies to relate to. But there are certain Rainbow Dash episodes where she comes off as an embarrassing, childish buffoon without a good reason for acting that way, and I am extremely thankful this episode isn’t one of them.

All in all, this song was a great way to finally give Rainbow Dash a musical number to herself, something that many fans had long hoped for. Now as of this episode, Spike is the only main cast member remaining to get their own musical number, and he gets one in season 6. Technically Applejack hadn’t gotten a solo musical number either, but she has had several shared between her family that put her front and center. This song ends on a hopeful note shown above, but then Tank falls asleep and Rainbow Dash finds out the other pegasi are still well on track to make winter happen.

Since Rainbow Dash is a very on-the-move pony, it’s a rare treat for her episodes to give this much worldbuilding.

In response to this revelation, Rainbow Dash decides to do something more extreme: she goes inside the Cloudsdale weather factory to stop winter right at the source. Here’s where things get incredibly tense and nerve-wracking, showing the extreme lengths Rainbow Dash will take to avoid the impending truth.

Apparently Rainbow Dash unscrewed the holes to the vent from behind. How does that even work?

Rainbow Dash enters the factory through a vent shaft, and I can’t help but notice that she’s bringing Tank with her even though it’s dangerous in there. This shows that deep down she knows that Tank will hibernate, but she still needs her turtle to stay awake so that she can convince herself otherwise. She’s probably also bringing Tank along for emotional support; a reminder as to why she’s doing this.

Rainbow Dash hides in a locker briefly, then gets out wearing an outfit that matches those the weather ponies are wearing. Tank is adorably wearing such an outfit too; perhaps Rainbow Dash is trying to pass Tank off as her loyal animal assistant akin to Fluttershy and her animals?

Rainbow Dash leaves Tank tied to a lamp to wait as she explores the factory and tries to find the best way to stop the weather. In her reckless impulse, she’s left her turtle in a dangerous position as he aimlessly flies in his sleep. After some exploration, she empties the big tube of water so that the pegasi will no longer be able to make clouds or snowflakes, seemingly allowing her to achieve her grand goal. Her shortsighted thinking is at an extreme peak, which is a natural part of the bargaining stage of grief. You can’t think too hard about any possible compromises because if you do, you’ll be faced with the unpleasant truth.

He was that close.

Even if the pegasi could go into the cloud factory and decide “well I guess we’re just not doing winter now” instead of getting more water to resume operations, Rainbow Dash’s hastiness combined with her loyalty to Tank cause her plan to catastrophically fail. To start off, Tank almost gets killed by a fan in a nerve-wracking scene. Rainbow Dash leaps to action when she sees this and crashes into a barrel of snow, leading to a hazardous chain reaction of mishaps. I know I keep saying this, but every episode of season 5 so far has done the absolute craziest things, and this one’s no exception.

A big flow of wind sends Rainbow Dash into another room where a jar of lightning tips over, leaving Rainbow Dash screaming for her life as the lightning sets off a cloud machine.  Her whole crazy plan has blown up in her face, and now she cares only about keeping Tank alive. As she and Tank are sucked through the tubes in the weather factory, she’s surely realizing that there’s nothing she can do to stop winter from coming, but she can’t process this revelation just yet because she’s scared for her (and Tank’s) life.

I love Twilight Sparkle’s line at the end of the second act: “Prepare yourselves, everypony. Winter is coming.”

Normally the start of winter being this perilous means there’s a villain trying to stop Christmas!
Er, I mean Hearth’s Warming Eve.

The disaster at the weather factory culminates in a gigantic snowball—a snowball that contains Rainbow Dash and Tank, and releases an explosion that begins winter in the most dramatic way Ponyville has ever seen. While Rainbow Dash was trying to stop winter from coming, all she did was make it come even sooner. Just like how any attempts at bargaining out of your grief will only make it come faster.

The Mane 6 pop out of the snow one by one, and Rainbow Dash searches in peril for Tank until she finds him.

Twilight Sparkle: Rainbow Dash, are you alright?
Rainbow Dash: (grunt) No.

Now that her crazy plan to stop Tank from hibernating completely backfired, Rainbow Dash realizes there’s nothing she can do to stop winter and enters the fourth stage of grief: depression. She’s finally processed the revelation for real: her turtle will hibernate and there’s no way to get around it. Now that her initial anger has been let out, what can she do other than cry?

I wonder who made Rainbow Dash and Tank’s matching slippers?
Do you think Rainbow Dash went to a “build your own slipper” workshop and pretended the slippers were for her “baby sister” or something?

It turns out that this whole time, Rainbow Dash has had cozy purple pajamas, and she and Tank have matching slippers modeled after each other. We’ve never seen her in this attire until today, showing how heavily she keeps her sappy side all to herself. She’s sort of like a brony who never shows anyone his MLP plushes, but very fondly plays with them when no one else is around. But now that Rainbow Dash is so broken up about her turtle hibernating, embarrassing herself with her cutesy interests is the last thing on her mind. Her friends all come in to check on her, and she insists that she’s fine until Fluttershy tells her the cold, hard truth.

Fluttershy: Let me handle this.
Fluttershy: Rainbow Dash, your winter is going to be… petless.

This fit of tears hits harder now that we’ve gotten to know Rainbow Dash for four seasons than it would have back in season 1.

Rainbow Dash: (breaks down into tears)
Rarity: What ever did you do that for?
Fluttershy: Because she’ll never get past this until she lets it all out.

Can you appreciate how much of a bold move Fluttershy just did, telling Rainbow Dash the truth as bluntly as she can? She’s learned quite a few lessons about kindness in the last few seasons, one of which was that sometimes the kind thing to do is to be firm. This truth hits harder coming from Fluttershy than it would from anyone else, since she’s normally so much more tactful than the others. She drove Rainbow Dash to a fit of crying, but she knows it’s for her own good.

Twilight Sparkle brings Applejack over to try comforting Rainbow Dash, and Applejack says that Tank will come back after a few months. Tank hibernating is quite an obvious stand-in for the heavy topic of a pet dying, and death is something that this show still needs some time before it’s ready to tackle. But for a pony as impatient as Rainbow Dash, saying goodbye to Tank for three months may as well be saying goodbye forever. As such, her pet going away for a few months is a very appropriate stand-in for something much heavier; for her it’s basically the same thing.

Fluttershy thinks Rainbow Dash’s break into tears is about to end, but it’s only begun, and soon enough Fluttershy begins crying too. It’s mildly amusing that only after Fluttershy starts crying are other Mane 6 members driven to do the same; Rarity says she can’t bear to see Fluttershy cry and joins in the tears, as does Pinkie Pie. All of them see extreme fits of tears as a rare oddity for Rainbow Dash, but Fluttershy at least knows Rainbow Dash well enough to know she needs to hear the firm, non-sugar-coated truth. Rarity and Pinkie Pie are more outwardly emotional than the remaining two Mane 6 members, whose eyes remain dry.

Twilight Sparkle: Look, everypony. I know how hard it is to say goodbye.
Pinkie Pie: I’m mostly sad because you’re not sad!
Twilight Sparkle: What? Me? What about Applejack?
Pinkie Pie: Applejack cries on the inside, Twilight!
Applejack: It’s true.

I really appreciate that not all the Mane 6 are outwardly crying. If they all burst into tears together, it would have honestly been a little cheesy. The fact that Twilight Sparkle and Applejack aren’t joining on the tears does a great job showing that different people express sadness in different ways, and not everyone cries when they’re sad. Applejack crying on the inside is especially somber when you think about how she lost her parents. It makes you realize that Applejack is just as heavily affected by tragic events as the rest of the Mane 6; she just knows how to keep up her composure. Twilight Sparkle is similarly good at keeping her cool in this situation because she’s concerned for her friend above all else.

This scene, man. It tugs at the heartstrings so insanely hard.

And with all her tears let out, Rainbow Dash is ready for the final stage of grief: acceptance. It’s easily the most difficult stage of grief to reach, and it’s typically attained after going through several emotional breakdowns. While grief isn’t always experienced in the same sequential order, people go through at least one stage before making it to acceptance—that’s simply the definition of grief.

I think winter clothes are very cute, including when they’re on cartoon horses.
And these are some charming designs.

To show her acceptance of her grief, Rainbow Dash joins her friends in winter activities and gets ready to say goodbye to Tank. She’s finally gotten over her grief, and they discuss plans for welcoming Tank back above ground. As this episode shows, coming to terms with unexpected bad news isn’t easy, but it will eventually happen if you give it some time. Rainbow Dash asks Tank one more time if he’s sure he wants to hibernate; Tank nods, and he buries himself under a tree for the winter. The way I see it, grief doesn’t only happen when someone dies. It’s likely to happen whenever plans you were excited for are unexpectedly cut short, which is never easy to come to terms with.

Even when you’re in the acceptance stage of grief, it’s typical to still need a bit of time to yourself to cool off. While the rest of the Mane 6 go off to have some fun in the snow, Rainbow Dash reads to Tank because she knows he can’t go to sleep without a good bedtime story. This is one last indication of how well she knows her pet, and one last indication that she’s come to terms with this unexpected news.

Overall thoughts:

This is one of the most emotional episodes of the entire show, and I’d say it’s surpassed only by two others: The Perfect Pear and The Last Problem. And the latter is the final episode of a show that I hold dear to me, so of course I’m going to find it emotional. Rainbow Dash’s episodes are a land of contrasting extremes: some like this one are exceptionally powerful wild rides where she’s easy to sympathize with through the extreme circumstances she faces, whereas some are an annoying mess of contrivances where she is painfully unlikable. While there are some Rainbow Dash episodes that I don’t strongly love or detest, I’d still say her character walks a very thin line when an episode focuses on her.

So, what all does this episode do so well? For one thing, Rainbow Dash feels easy to sympathize with while still feeling like Rainbow Dash. At the start, she was unaware that Tank hibernates, which makes sense given that she’s always had a hasty way of thinking. And she’s known to take extreme lengths to stop herself from facing the truth, as well as to protect those she cares about. And since we’ve known her for several seasons by now, this season is an appropriate time for us to get a full look at her affectionate side, a facet of her personality that many fans of the show will relate to. All these factors combined with the premise make this episode one of the show’s greatest hits.

Grade: A

I don’t have a list of top 10 favorite episodes of this show, but if I did, this episode would absolutely be on it.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Just like in Fall Weather Friends, the ponies participating in the Running of the Leaves have some background duplicates, but less so than before. Also, their numbers don’t consist entirely of 0’s, 1’s, and 8’s this time. We also get asymmetrical numbers like 77 and 14.
  • On the topic of Rainbow Dash episodes that do not make her character sympathetic, you have no idea how much I’m dreading getting to 28 Pranks Later. It’s one of my least favorite episodes of the entire show, possibly my number one least.

The next episode brings us back to the Cutie Mark Crusaders by having them solve a mystery about a misunderstood pony’s cutie mark.


Season 5 Episode 6: Appleoosa’s Most Wanted

In five words: Crusaders help outlaw understand mark.

Premise: On a trip to Appleoosa, the Cutie Mark Crusaders discover the surprising truth about a notorious criminal named Trouble Shoes.

Detailed run-through:

This episode starts with the Cutie Mark Crusaders in Appleoosa, excited to see Applejack participate in a rodeo competition. The Crusaders say that this place is a cutie mark goldmine with tons of activities that could get them their marks, and I find it a little odd that they’re back to wanting to do anything they can to try earning their marks after recent episodes started showing them get more solidified interests. But it’s clear why the prospect of their cutie marks is brought up so early: through their encounter with Trouble Shoes, they start to discover their shared special talent in helping others understand their cutie marks.

From this shadow, it’s clear that Trouble Shoes is one of very few characters who looks like a real-life horse.

The sheriff in Appleoosa brings up a criminal that the town hopes to get to justice, and then we see this mysterious figure’s shadow along with a horseshoe hoofprint. This makes Apple Bloom and Scootaloo extra excited about this event, whereas Sweetie Belle worries that something bad is going on. I’ve talked plenty about how Sweetie Belle is a little different from the other two Crusaders and how she’s my favorite of the three, so there’s no need to repeat that.

We learn that in the Appleoosa rodeo competition, Applejack is filling in for her cousin Braeburn who has a leg injury. She worries where the Crusaders went, and them they come back from some rodeo events. Applejack is once more being extremely protective of these fillies and scolds Braeburn for not looking after them closely enough, but at least this time she seems to have a good reason: keeping them away from the crimes of Trouble Shoes.

Unlike the last few times we were in Appleoosa, we now have plenty of custom background pony designs here.
Refreshing, isn’t it?

A stack of hay collapses and nearly squishes the Cutie Mark Crusaders, then Sheriff Silverstar sees a recognizable hoofprint and everyone agrees this must be the no-good Trouble Shoes. Various other ponies in Appleoosa then talk about all the nefarious deeds he’s committed, and this brings me to a problem I have with many Cutie Mark Crusaders episodes: the adult characters often don’t come off as all that intelligent and aren’t willing to listen to reason. It’s common in shows where the main cast consists of children for adults to be portrayed as clueless buffoons, but unusually for a kids’ show, six out of seven main characters in MLP are by all reasonable measures adults. So it’s a little jarring when the show decreases the intelligence of these adult characters to allow child characters to shine, and that’s an issue many Cutie Mark Crusaders episodes run into.

OK, to be fair, none of the residents of Appleoosa have any evidence against Trouble Shoes being a deliberate outlaw. Still, this criticism of the Crusaders’ episodes has been in my head for quite a while, and this episode was a good time to bring it out.

Applejack almost considers going back home with the Crusaders, but Braeburn convinces her to stay and promises to watch over the Cutie Mark Crusaders. He says that he won’t let the Crusaders out of his sight, which is just tempting fate. Indeed, he falls asleep in his chair not long after, indicating he’s a much more laid-back type than Applejack.

Braeburn made sure to close three locks on the door, but he didn’t think to secure the windows.

Once Braeburn is asleep, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo see this as an opportunity to exit through the window. Sweetie Belle is the last to exit, and unlike the other two who landed on their hooves, she falls on her face. This shows that while Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were thinking this whole time about how to escape and prepared to get out the window without making noise, Sweetie Belle remained more obedient and thus didn’t look ahead when getting out the window. Sweetie Belle continues being the adorable “good girl” type when she expresses doubt that the Crusaders should wander off on their own. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo say they plan on finding Trouble Shoes and will let the sheriff bring him to justice, and they plan to earn their marks that way, but Sweetie Belle doubts this is a good idea. Though she expresses the same doubts that the adult characters do, Sweetie Belle is open-minded enough to follow her friends and eventually find out what Trouble Shoes is actually like.

All three Crusaders get scared when it starts raining, and they don’t know how to go back, much to Sweetie Belle’s frustration. Applejack meets up indoors with the other rodeo participants, and Braeburn chuckles when asked where the Crusaders are; this leads Applejack to scream a loud “WHAT?”

Applejack: Sheriff Silverstar. You gotta help. My sister’s gone, and her friends too!
Braeburn: I’ve searched and searched, but no sign of ‘em anywhere!
Applejack: It must have been Trouble Shoes!
Sheriff Silverstar: Now, now hold on there. Trouble Shoes done a lot of bad things in his day, but nothing like that.
Applejack: You really want to take that chance?
Sheriff Silverstar: (rubs his chin) … Come on, y’all! Let’s ride!

This is a perfect example of the problem with the Crusaders’ episodes I’ve been talking about. Applejack immediately assumes Trouble Shoes must have kidnapped them, even though the Crusaders have wandered off on their own plenty of times before. Like when Fluttershy was supposed to babysit them and fell asleep, or when Applejack went ultra-protective towards Apple Bloom and she ran off anyway. Applejack falls victim to this problem—adults being dumber than usual in the Crusaders’ episodes—more than any other character.

Trouble Shoes’ design isn’t just unique because he looks like a real horse. He’s also HUGE.

The Crusaders fall down a mud slide and enter a mysterious trailer that turns out to be Trouble Shoes’ home. He enters it with a perfect character establishing moment: by clumsily crashing into everything in a drawn-out slapstick sequence until he lands on the floor knocked out. My first question is, how was his house not already in disarray before he entered the scene? Does he normally take care of this location well and merely got startled by the Crusaders’ presence? He does mention that he sometimes bakes pies for guests, but… nah, this isn’t worth overthinking.

Trouble Shoes reveals his cutie mark to be an upside-down horseshoe, which he thinks is symbolic of bad luck. After all this talk about cutie marks symbolizing special talents in The Cutie Map and Bloom & Gloom, bad luck sounds like a weird thing for a cutie mark to be about. I find it strange that Trouble Shoes wound up with a cutie mark he didn’t understand, but maybe such cases of cryptic marks are why it’s important to have ponies around to help others understand their marks. The lore of cutie marks is often seen as muddy and inconsistent by fans, and some characters within the show are similarly perplexed by this subject. It’s a lot like how there are many aspects of human psychology that aren’t easy to understand or pin down.

Trouble Shoes leads the way back to Appleoosa, and Sweetie Belle remarks that it’s sweet of him to do that. For the Crusaders, this is enough confirmation that Trouble Shoes is a good guy, and I can only think about how differently he would be perceived if the residents of Appleoosa didn’t jump to conclusions.

We’re now at a point where flashbacks are no longer filled with the same background ponies every time.

On the walk to Appleoosa, Trouble Shoes tells the story of how he got his cutie mark. When he was little, he wanted to be a rodeo performer, but every time he tried, he kept crashing into things or getting into other mishaps. He was interested in this area of work, and he thought that with enough practice he would be able to fulfill those dreams. I can’t blame him at all for this line of thought; he surely saw others earn their cutie marks as a reward for perfecting a skill.

Trouble Shoes: And finally, I wrangled up the guts to audition for rodeo school. Right in the middle of that tryout, I knew I was doing what I was meant to.
Trouble Shoes: And wouldn’t you know it, in a flash comes this here cutie mark.

This story contrasts with how Twilight Sparkle didn’t notice when she got her cutie mark until Celestia pointed it out.
Oh, if only Trouble Shoes had some of Twilight’s good luck.

Trouble Shoes earned his cutie mark during the rodeo audition, and when he got distracted looking at the mark one moment too long, he got himself stuck in a barrel causing the judges to seemingly laugh at him. This caused him to cut the audition short and give up on his rodeo dreams, though to this day he still enjoys watching the Appleoosa rodeo. This story has a lot more resemblance to the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ nightmares two episodes ago than it does to all the other stories of ponies getting their marks. I mean, think about it. Trouble Shoes was doing something that he was so sure would earn him his mark, but the moment his mark appeared, he slipped up and made a fool of himself. He assumed that correlation implies causation, and how is he supposed to know any better? Normally, ponies get their cutie marks after accomplishing something big related to their marks, not before.

While Trouble Shoes’ story is weird considering how cutie mark lore more typically works, for the Crusaders this surely puts their prior dreams in a new perspective. It’s an example someone having looked at their cutie mark the wrong way all along: Apple Bloom remarks that given this story, Trouble Shoes would be perfect as a rodeo clown. This is an admirable instance of the Crusaders being quick to put something together, and it makes sense that they’d pick up on such things given how much they’ve obsessed over the hopes of getting their marks.

Unfortunately, Trouble Shoes is caught and arrested by Silverstar and his crew, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders are sent away from him before they can explain themselves. The presumption that Trouble Shoes kidnapped the Crusaders is very over the top, but it’s unfortunately required for this episode’s plot to happen.

While Trouble Shoes is in prison and keeps breaking his mattresses, Sweetie Belle uses magic to snatch Sheriff Silverstar’s keys. Unlike the other two Cutie Mark Crusaders, Sweetie Belle hesitates to partake in their mischief unless she’s sure it’s for a beneficial goal. It’s a joy to see her get a better hold on her magic, and in the later seasons she does some impressive magic feats not far from the level of Twilight Sparkle or Starlight Glimmer.

Then we get another instance of adults in the Crusaders’ episodes being strangely gullible: Apple Bloom gets Silverstar out of the prison room by claiming the hay bale monster stack competition is starting. I suppose this guy prioritizes watching sports over watching prisoners… or maybe he thinks Trouble Shoes can’t do anything naughty when locked in his cell? Whatever the case, the Crusaders then get Trouble Shoes out of jail and convince him to participate in the rodeo.

Applejack and her team are shown winning the hay stacking competition, but since it’s not the main point of this episode, it doesn’t get much fanfare.

Trouble Shoes comes in dressed like a clown and enters the rodeo demonstrating the real meaning of his cutie mark: being a rodeo clown. His intrusion into the other clowns’ antics leads to endless slapstick humor, and making others laugh through slapstick was supposedly his talent all along. It’s a bizarre thing to call a “special talent”, and you could less positively view this as since he’s not good at much, he might as well use his clumsiness for entertainment purposes. And it’s not like he’s trying to make others laugh: the Crusaders simply told him that the audience sees his antics as part of the show, not something to make fun of him for. I shouldn’t be too hard on this scene though, because all the slapstick really is quite hilarious.

If the show is called My Little Pony, then why is Trouble Shoes so huge?!

For some reason, only after a barrel washes Trouble Shoes’ makeup away does the audience realize who he is. I get that this is a cartoon where characters easily fall for disguises, but Trouble Shoes is the number one biggest pony we’ve seen in the show so far. Did they all think this was a totally different enormous brown pony with a horseshoe cutie mark? Or were they too caught up in laughter to think too hard?

Trouble Shoes comes clean about what he did and explains that he kept coming back to the rodeo in Appleoosa because he knew deep down this is where he was meant to be. It just took three intrepid fillies to make him finally understand his cutie mark. The Crusaders say Trouble Shoes has a special talent for making others laugh, and if doing so at the rodeo makes him happy, then I suppose all is well.

Amusingly enough, this episode ends with the Crusaders simultaneously punished and rewarded for running off on their own. The punishment is that they have to clean the mess Trouble Shoes made; the reward is that even though they didn’t earn their cutie marks, they get to come home with the satisfaction of having helped Trouble Shoes find his purpose. Regardless of this small contradiction, this scene quells the Crusaders’ desperation to earn their own marks in preparation for a later moment of triumph. Apple Bloom asks if they can stop now, and to end the episode, Applejack imitates Big Macintosh’s signature “nope”.

Overall thoughts:

The main problem with this episode, as I’ve said, is that the adult characters aren’t portrayed as all that bright. They are insistent on believing that Trouble Shoes is a no-good criminal and consistently ignore the Crusaders’ attempts at reason until the very end, and this problem is common in Cutie Mark Crusaders episodes. The resolution is strange too because Trouble Shoes’ “special skill” isn’t something he intentionally wanted to be good at, and it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t gotten such an indecipherable cutie mark. But aside from the humor value of all the slapstick, I can’t think of much else to say about this one. It’s an alright episode, but a little weak as far as season 5 goes.

Grade: C

This episode has some good moments, and it has some problems, but neither of them are particularly extreme.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Sheriff Silverstar is briefly seen playing cards with two other security ponies, which is a fun touch that didn’t need to be there but was put in anyway. It adds a surprising amount of flavor to this minor character, showing something he likes to do in his spare time.
  • I wonder what’s up with the tally marks in Trouble Shoes’ prison. Did he really spend ten days in there, or is this instead counting the mattresses he broke? Also, given that the marks are grouped in fives, I wonder what made Equestria decide upon the decimal system as opposed to something cooler like base six or twelve? I mean, it’s not like ponies have five fingers per hand. Maybe it was influenced by different five-fingered species like dragons? (Please never let me go on any tangents about numeral systems, ever.)

After this lower-stakes episode, the next one brings us back to the delightfully wacky and unhinged nature of season 5.


See you next week for another monstrous episode review: the first episode where Discord is the protagonist. Plus the episode where Gilda returns, whose review isn’t quite as huge.

>> Part 46: Make New Friends but Keep Discord + The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone

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